AstraZeneca Striving To Bring Innovative Medicines To Fuel Growth In India: Sanjeev Panchal

In an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld, Sanjeev Panchal, Country President and MD AstraZeneca India speaks on the growing pharma industry, plans for investment in India, expectations from the new drugs bill and new launches for the company

The overall pharmaceutical industry is growing by almost early double digits which is a good sign for the industry contends Sanjeev Panchal Country President and MD AstraZeneca India while adding that for AstraZeneca the growth is more than 20 per cent. 

"The Indian pharmaceutical market is clearly seeing some policy changes and we are also seeing innovative medicines coming to our country to help more patients. AstraZeneca specifically is ensuring that we bring innovative medicines as fast as possible and our growth actually is driven by bringing those innovative medicines to India," Panchal says. 

AstraZeneca's growth is coming from a wide therapy area, he says and the company is trying to become a more specialist organisation. "We bring innovative medicines, especially in oncology and previously we have been launching new products in lung cancer also but now we are also bringing drugs for gastrointestinal cancers as well as for breast cancer. We have recently announced our entry into rare diseases with a new launch this year and we also got approval for a heart failure and chronic kidney disease (CKD) treatment," Panchal adds.

He believes as the company moves ahead it is actively looking at biopharmaceuticals in respiratory and immunology areas. "We have our biologics which are for severe asthma, and we also have products for heart attacks," Panchal states.  

Edited Excerpts:

Going forward, how are you planning to grow your product portfolios?

The way we want to drive AstraZeneca currently and in the future is that we want to be pioneers in science, which can be oncology, rare disease, biopharmaceutical within cardiovascular, renal and metabolism (CVRM), and it also in respiratory and immunology. We understand the unmet needs in India and then address that with a specialist disease area. While more products will be coming in oncology, in future we will have more products coming even in biopharmaceuticals, vaccine therapies and immunology as well. 

What does India require to make innovative medicines of its own? Why do you think the average R&D budget in India is not moving up?

India's environment is becoming more conducive for R&D and we have seen that innovative medicines have been coming from multinational companies to India. 

It's not at the pace where we would want of course, but I clearly see progress is being made, what we saw in the Chandrayaan 3 mission is a great example. But I believe it needs to come that fast into the pharmaceutical industry as well. 

We need cutting-edge research infrastructure and state-of-the-art technology coming into India and it's also important that we have more public-private partnerships, and we work together to bring innovation to India. We need to ensure that we partner a lot to bring from the lab to the patient. For example, AstraZeneca has its open innovation platform called A.Catalyst Network - a global network of more than 20 health innovation hubs of the company.  For AstraZeneca, globally we did USD 44 billion in sales in 2022 and we put almost 10 billion back into science. So the way we spend as a company globally in R&D is very critical.

The Government waived GST from a rare disease cancer drug recently and also reaffirmed that patients can import rare disease drugs for personal use without paying GST. What is your take on this? 

I would say it's a welcome move as it is a big relief for patients who are fighting such life-threatening diseases. But we also hope that this could be extended to benefit more patients, not for one drug but for more drugs for cancer and other rare diseases. If we can do this exemption beyond personal use import alone, then this would help us to bring access to rare disease and cancer medicine to more patients. 

The New Drugs, Medical Devices and Cosmetics Bill has been in the works for a while now. What are your expectations in terms of regulation or what would you say the industry's expectations are from the bill? 

I think we still need to wait to see how the bill comes up in the parliament. And we know that the existing law is an 80-year-old Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940 and Rules of 1945. So, first, we need to see the new bill then only I can comment clearly but we expect that of course the bill will bring a new regulatory framework for medical devices. We also expect stricter quality control and more transparency in the approval process which is very important for India as this will help more patients get high-quality standard drugs. I think there should be a more regulated environment as it will bring more trust to the pharma industry and raise the overall profile of the Indian pharmaceutical industry across the world. 

What are your plans in terms of investments in your portfolio going forward? How much will AstraZeneca India invest in it?

So our investment in India is across different areas of our enterprise. We have a commercial organisation, which is led by myself and then we have operations in which we manufacture some of our products here or bring bulk tablets to India and do the packaging. We also have a clinical trial team and we are making a huge investment there to bring more clinical trials to India, so that we understand local unmet needs across the therapy areas.

The second part is because we're doing clinical trials in India, it gives us an opportunity to launch our drugs much faster, innovative medicines, so just to give you a number,  we are planning to bring in more than 15 new launches in India between 2023-25. Out of which five have already received approval from the DCGI this year. India is an important market for us and we are excited that we can help to bring innovative science to patients where we can make the most meaningful difference. 

Then there is the R&D and we are working on expanding the R&D footprint in India. And a big investment also in our innovation and technology centre. Overall this will give an opportunity for our country to get people into employment.

Any drug that is exciting to you and might turn out very good for the organisation going forward?

One of the drugs is a cancer drug which is the most exciting is trastuzumab indicated for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. I think that there is a high unmet need in India for metastatic breast cancer and we believe that could really help the number of patients in India. We are also working on one of the diabetic drugs which is coming soon that showed another indication for heart failure, which is again a disease burden problem in our country. So these are quite exciting already and the excitement is for the purpose that we can make a difference to the patients where the unmet need is very high.


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